On cloud nine

Mere hours after hate-seven-hating at a bar I am set to return to as a mystery drinker in Villa Crespo, I left the crooked paving stones of San Telmo in the stalest, smokiest taxi in the world for cleaner, better-fitting paving stones in Recoleta for dinner.

I had a fair idea Chez Nous at the Algodon Mansion boutique hotel would be beautiful in all senses, so I was obviously devastated that my finery was going to be ruined thanks to the 60-a-day driver. (I recently gave up thanks to two severe bouts of bronchitis, which, in fact, gave me little choice in the matter.) But lateness was beckoning, I bit my tongue — unlike the night before — and away we sped into the night.

My dining companion had recently mentioned he thought there was a lack of places in Buenos Aires worthy of his Murano cuff links, so he and his linkage were my natural choice. My contribution to glamour was a Pebeta Teta mirrored anchor-and-fish brooch on my lapel.

The mood lighting may have been a little too moody, given that the extremely beautiful waitress Natacha had to turn Mr Links’ menu up the right way but despite that ice-breaking hitch, we decided to dive into the seven-step French menu. In fact she was even kind enough to offer him a magnifying glass, so perhaps upside-down food selection occurs more often than one thinks in this establishment.

I always imagine I can get seven courses down me (actually at the time of writing I managed to get seven courses down at lunch at Palermo Hollywood’s HG restaurant), but the truth is, it’s a tough job. But I do wonder why an amuse bouche counts as a whole course? Surely consumer trading standards should have something to say about that. Importantly, however, seven courses equals 14 minus four amuse bouches, and frankly 10 taster dishes will suit me, sir.

Once Mr Links had chosen a Pinot Noir, I was delighted to let head maître d’ and sommelier Ramiro Hernández then take charge. He produced a juicy, plummy bottle from the Algodon estate in San Rafael which whipped its way up my tobacco-free nose as soon as it was opened.

A goats’ cheese obsession – my favourite in Argentina is slathered in black pepper and can be purchased on the road from Salta to Cafayate – meant a ricotta-ed up version with pine mushrooms, asparagus and truffle was my first port of call. I could barely wait for Natacha to conclude her explanation so I could tuck in. It was dreamy, creamy, and a little piece of goaty heaven. Reluctantly, I offered up a tiny forkful to Mr Links.

The saffron-doused Spanish octopus (see photo) was simply perfect, flavoursome. And perhaps I hang around at the wrong kind of establishments but I don’t believe anyone has ever asked me how I want my lamb cooked. (Pinker than the Floyd, that’s for sure.)

Lured in by prawns, lemongrass, curry, pumpkin and brie in gnocchi, this was a letdown for my overexcited tastebuds. There were too many flavours vying for attention. Conversely, Mr Links happily finished it off while passing over a risotto which he was less than enamoured with but it worked for me.

Every course was lovingly explained by Natacha who seemed relieved we could understand Spanish and who kept a sharp yet unintrusive eye on water, and, more importantly, wine.

In fact, when another waitress brought out the lamb and Ecuadorian mahi mahi, which was utterly delicious although the wasabi jus was aimed at an Argentine audience and could have been vamped up substantially, I missed Natacha. She must have tuned into my fleeting thought because seconds later she re-appeared to point out I had lamb sweetbreads wrapped in filo pastry, which, despite this being dish six, I could have eaten a number seven of. I’m a big fan of La Brigada’s lamb glands and chitlings so it was a welcome treat to munch them down.

After the appalling service the previous night at the Villa Crespo bar, I’ll admit I might have been on my knees at the slightest sign of a staff nicety.

But I actually think Natacha might have fallen a tiny bit in love with us as well. Maybe it was the tip (thanks, Mr. Links).

But aside from her beauty, friendliness, and not minding us ogling her chest to get a closer look at her name tag (the lighting was moody, remember?), she kissed us goodbye on both cheeks. How many waiting staff you don’t know, do that?

Algodon Mansion, Montevideo 1647. Tel: 3530-7777

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on August 21, 2011.

Photo courtesy of Algodon Mansion.

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